Locally, one such film is Looking for Love, which stars comedienne Celeste Ntuli, in the role of 38-year-old Buyi, who is, as the title suggests, looking for love. What is particularly important is that bodies that are supposedly socially unacceptable and unruly are seen at the centre of this film - not to satisfy some trope about “the jolly fat friend” or the “angry black, fat woman”. Buyi is simply a woman, with aspirations, goals, dreams and a healthy sex life.
The experience of watching the film was a liberating one. Seeing a body that so much resembled mine, in the lead of a film, had a powerful effect.
Catching up with Ntuli telephonically, she tells me that there are a couple of similarities between her own life and that of Buyi: “There’s definitely a bit of me in her and in the film that’s based on my life. She’s single, so am I and in the movie, she discovers that she could also be a comedian. Those are some of the main things that the character and I share. The other stuff, in terms of her personality, I don’t share that much with her,” she said.
In Looking for Love, Buyi is a rather “unaccomplished” 38-year-old alpha female (we’ll discuss this issue of accomplished according to established standards some other time) . She seems unhappy with her life. At her sister’s wedding, where she makes a spectacle of herself, she reunites with her schoolmate Greg (Trevor Gumbi), who can safely say has loved her since he learned how to love. While he sees in her the ability to make people laugh. She is busy trying to sort out her love woes on the side, with her best friend’s assistance, Lindi (Phindile Gwala). It’s funny, vulnerable and oh-so-real at the same time. This is what Ntuli said they were looking for.
The movie features two other comedians -Ntosh Madlingozi and Issac Gampu - two who were a treat to watch, despite their limited acting experience.
“I was happy that I got to play that in the film. I think we’ve needed that normal girl as the focus. I was not scared to do those sex scenes because I knew that people were going to relate. Especially the people thinking: ‘I’m not built like a model.’ Big girls do have sex. I just wanted to make it normal,” she said with a chuckle.
She continued: “Someone my size can have sex, kinky sex at that, and I had to also show my body in a believable, tasteful way. We wanted it to be real, to be funny, and I am happy that most women are going to relate to seeing Buyi,” she said.
This was also Ntuli’s first foray into acting as a lead in a feature film. She spoke very positively of the experience, stating that it also allowed to her to see that she could achieve something of this nature.
She counted working with legendary actress Lillian Dube as a blessing, an experience that allowed her to learn.
Working with Trevor Gumbi was also a notable experience: “I hadn’t worked with Trevor outside of the stand-up comedy stuff. But acting with him ... It was great to see him transform from the comedian I know to really taking on this character. I was impressed, I was in awe, I really learned a lot,” she said.
For the film, Ntuli also wore the hat of associate producer. This experience, she said, taught her that when it comes to casting films, sometimes it’s best to go for the people who aren’t popular, but who are talented.
“The South African film industry takes some getting used to, if you want to be honest. People are always worried about how the audience will receive the film, whether it will be too much for people. I realised then that we don’t take too many risks. In this movie, almost everyone except Trevor, Phindile and I are faces that are not just popular all the time. They are talented actors and actresses, however,” she added.
“The movie wasn’t based on wanting to use popular people, but I wanted to use people who fitted the characters. Not that the movie has its reputation because it has so-and-so starring in it who has a million followers.”
Asked why people should see the movie, she said: “One thing I know for sure is that it’s a hilarious film. It’s light and, as South Africans, we need to laugh. It’s also lovely to go out and see with your girls; it’s a lovely movie to go see on a date and, importantly, its beautifully representative of everyone,” she said.
The film bug seems to have bitten Ntuli. She revealed that she had already started conversations about another film or maybe a sitcom. And if it’s going to turn out as Looking for Love has, we’re quite eager to see it.